The Opposition of Black and White in Heart of Darkness
In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad explores the psychological “heart of darkness” within all of humanity. The text looks at the European societies false illumination of civilization, of which obscures the internal darkness, in relation to the psychological environment in which human’s are placed. Conrad sets up the opposition of black and white to display the superficial pretense of light in the European society, and the true heart of darkness which is present within all of humanity.
From the start of Marlow’s journey into the African Congo it is apparent that he is a product of the colonialist European society, which is where the first oppositions of black and white evolve. Marlow understands the premise behind colonialism, but is unprepared for the savagery and the wilderness of the heart of darkness. This is most apparent when Marlow encounters the “grove of death”, where many natives are sick and dying, yet Marlow, although confronted, is unable to deal with this foreign situation. He encounters a young boy with a piece of white European yarn around his neck. In this instance white is usually associated with purity, and innocence, yet Conrad challenges many of these assumptions, with the white piece of thread used as a symbol of the evil of colonialist practices. The white thread remains a constant reminder which forms a contrast to the black child, it looks out of place and artificial, and thus, is symbolic of the colonialist practices. Marlow responds to the situation with questions - "Why? Where did he get it?" (27) - showed that he had not yet come into an understanding of the effects of imperialism on the wilderness. This is further emphasized when he gives the child a Swede’s ships biscuit, it is merely a nervous reaction to a situation he cannot understand or deal with. Marlow responds to his naiveté this by leaving the area, and continuing on his journey.
The Accountant, who Marlow encounters immediately after the native boy provides a stark contrast, dressed entirely in neatly pressed white linen. This man is representative of the ideas that Marlow associated with the civilization before he enters the Congo. Marlow admires the accountant, calling him a “miracle” and “superb”, this is because he is not tainted by the darkness – the savage and the uncivilized nature of the Congo, and he has great devotion to his work despite this, saying “His books were in apple pie order”. Marlow stated that, in keeping clean and orderly, "the man had verily accomplished something" (28). However, the Accountant, although devoted to his work lacks empathy, evident through his disregard of the calls of dying natives. The use of white, represents the ideology of the colonialists, the façade of light, and the pristine human character, which are all challenged in Conrad’s reversal of these color associations.
Furthermore the use of ivory throughout the novel as the main premise of...